Best and Respect | Shin Okishima
Interview: Zen Tsujimoto | Photography: Ryan Lindow
Dialogue | Issue 01 | p.117
With an ever calm and wise manner, one could envision a great and placid lake, when it comes to Stüssy Japan’s Brand Director, Shin Okishima. Unknown to many, the twenty-plus-year veteran has painstakingly nurtured Stüssy Japan to the force it is now, all the while playing an integral role in Tokyo’s subcultures of streetwear and fashion.
While Okishima wouldn’t be the first to claim any credit, his kind and generous nature has manifested into providing support for the next generation of up and comers, more recently through the project, SO Gallery. With his camera always ready, Okishima tells us about his background, his prolific activities outside of Stüssy Japan, and how his experiences have shaped him to who he is now.
Where did you grow up? What eventually lead you to move to Tokyo?
I grew up in Shizuoka city (located on central Honshu’s Pacific coast) it was a good place to grow up as a kid; being surrounded by mount Fuji, the sea and nature. I moved to Tokyo around ten years ago, but before then, I would commute back and forth from Shizuoka to Tokyo, almost every week. I continued doing this for about ten years since I was working in-house at Stüssy Japan HQ in Shizuoka. Then I became a freelancer, and now a lot of my work is mainly based out of Tokyo.
You are in a unique position of being the brand director of Stüssy Japan while also working as a freelancer. What were the principal reasons for you choosing a freelance path?
It was a natural progression. I was supporting a lot of work outside of Stüssy, and it became apparent I would be able to move a lot more efficiently if I became a freelancer. It wasn’t that I wanted to work more independently, it’s just what I had to do in order to move more fluidly. There are certain things you aren’t able to see when you are too much on the inside (of Stüssy Japan) but if you’re able to have more of an overall perspective from the outside, you have the ability to bring a positive influence to the table.
What is your first memory of Stüssy?
It was 1989. I was eighteen and I bought a Stüssy World Tour t-shirt. That was almost 26 years ago. At the time, Stüssy was getting popular but there wasn’t such a prevalence of information sharing since there was still no Internet. You would see Stüssy in magazines, and people wearing it in Tokyo, especially skaters, but that was about it. A lot of people didn’t know about it back then.
When did you first start getting into photography? What was your first camera?
My first camera was a Konica compact camera, that I obtained while in elementary school. However, the first camera I used as an adult was a small Rollei camera. At the time I was also using a Ricoh GR, a Contax, and a few other film cameras but the Rollei seemed the best suited to what I was doing – which was landscape photography. I became more comfortable showing my work and began taking photos for the Trestles.
The Trestles is a series of photographs from a surf area in Southern California. I would often go to the West Coast for work trips, and used this time to frequent the Trestles for surf. The waves were much easier to ride compared to Japan. Irvine, (location of Stüssy US HQ) is a little bit of a commute from San Clemente, so I would stay in San Clemente with a friend who lived out there. I would surf every morning and again in the late afternoon. I was probably twenty-six years old, the first time I went. I remember always carrying my surfboard in one hand and camera in the other.
Your photography book, VOICE OFF STAGE, highlights the dying art of various master craftsmen throughout Japan. Can you tell us how this book came to be?
With VOICE OFF STAGE, the craftsmen I featured weren’t used to being photographed or interviewed, hence the title of the book. These masters don’t consider themselves artists and many of them work in the shadows. They initially decline interviews, and don’t understand why they should be interviewed in the first place since they’re doing what they’ve been taught from childhood - a skill set passed down from the generation before. In the end, they just want to make people happy with their craft. They’ve been contributing to a significant part of what defines Japanese culture, and sadly I’m witnessing how these art forms are dying out.
Thinking of how I could contribute, I set out to document my encounters with these faces so that 50 or so years later, people will be able to see how things once were. The idea to leave something behind, referencing the tools and environment in which these craftsmen would operate seemed special to me. It wasn’t easy though, and it took quite a while with all the craftsmen based in different prefectures throughout Japan.
Most of these stories feature a tool or an object like a knife or a pair of glasses, and I dissect how it was made and what type of person made it. These products are a direct reflection of the craftsmen. I was enticed to meet with them, the first person I interviewed was Kotake Chobei, who unfortunately passed away last year. He made eyewear by himself in Fukui, and for someone to handcraft eyewear entirely by themselves is quite rare.
How did the concept behind your book DANCE come about? Can you share some insights into what aspects you found to be particularly rewarding?
The opportunity came to me through family friends living in the Miyazaki prefecture. They told me of a ritual shared between thirty families, where a dance festival is held every year. I wasn’t exactly researching traditional Japanese dance festivals to begin with. I was just lucky enough that it was my family friends’ turn to host it that year, and I asked them if I could document it. I wanted to make a book highlighting a sacred tradition in Japan, and wanted to leave something behind so people could know this once existed in Japanese culture. There was a special celebration held the evening before the festival, restricted only to people directly involved. Up until now it had never been accessible to anyone on the outside, so I felt honored to have been invited. Everything came as a natural progression, and was all a novel experience to me. The next morning, on the day of the festival, everyone woke up at 6am and spent the day setting up the grounds. The festival started around 7pm and carried on until the following morning until 6am. If my family friends weren’t the hosts that year and had it been a different family, this book probably would have never been made. I took the pictures in 2010 and it finally took form earlier this year.
Do you have any other other books currently in the works?
I do have a few in the pipeline. For some, I have already taken the pictures, however I have yet to develop the design. That and the layout may also change over time depending on my perspective. Essentially, I want to leave behind a documentation of things I’m interested in. I’ve already decided on a number of concepts for future books, however my style is not to set a rule of when to release - it could even take up to ten years to release a book after the pictures have been taken. Certain topics or subjects that I want to cover may be from a closed off or protected community, and therefore it takes time to build relationships and trust. I like people, and I like the people who’ve been the subjects of my photography.
More recently however, I’ve been working on Lance Mountain’s book. A book concerning his life, significant turning points, and certain stages in his life which have shaped him into who he is now. It will cover a selection of his artwork, photography and scrapbooks to date. Of course, it will also highlight the skate legends that have influenced him. The book is fundamentally a documentation of the world witnessed through his eyes. It becomes something that links one generation with the next. Rather than self-promotion, the book’s purpose is to support the people who’ve been with him throughout the years.
Your support for the youth community in Tokyo is prevalent. What are the drivers behind this?
I don’t particularly think I’ve supported the youth to a significant degree, but I intend to support the next generation. From my standpoint, it’s just one way I can contribute a small part to society. The reason behind this isn’t too different from why I went from holding an in-house position at Stüssy, to a position of freelance. It’s simply a matter of growing up, understanding my role in society, and knowing what it is I need to do to play my part. Of course, there are certain people (Like Hiroshi Fujiwara) that I’ve looked up to and have had the privilege of witnessing how they’ve done things. Since I’ve been lucky enough to have had these people support me, in return I see it as my time to give something back.
I never really liked hierarchy, especially within a Japanese context - the idea of seniors and juniors. I think hierarchies can limit a lot of things in life, I wanted to create a platform for like-minded people to be able to meet and become exposed to new ideas and alternative ways of thinking. I think that could benefit a lot of people. If I don’t give anything back, I would just become a boring person who never really did anything - it would be wasteful.
Is SO Gallery intended to be your platform to facilitate this?
I felt SO Gallery was something that needed to be done at this stage of my life. I wanted to set up a hub in Shoto, Shibuya as there had never been a place like that in all the years I’d been up Shoto hill. I don’t necessarily feel like it’s my home or anything, but it happens to be the place of most significance to me, as I’ve been involved in a lot projects within Shibuya and Harajuku. SO Gallery was a natural product of a younger generation I’ve come to understand.
Having achieved so much in different genres, how do you envision your legacy?
Instead of choosing to promote myself as the Brand Director of Stüssy Japan, I believe more in leaving something behind that could benefit people on a greater scale. It’s the same with brands. If a family buys their son or daughter their first Stüssy item - that essentially becomes a lasting memory for their child. When the kid becomes an adult, he can look back on a photo of himself when he was fifteen and say, “Wow, I was wearing a Stüssy t-shirt back then.” He can be nostalgic of when his parents bought him his first piece from the brand. It becomes more than just that single moment, and continues to be a positive influence in his life. Of course, it’s difficult to do everything this way, and business is very important, but I feel a stronger inclination towards approaching things with the purest of intentions. If something can bring happiness or betterment to society, then it gives me sense of purpose to what I’ve been doing, and that makes me happy.
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